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David Salo's _A Gateway to Sindarin_

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    Today I received my copy of David Salo s new book, _A Gateway to Sindarin_ (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2004). While I intend to offer a
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 24, 2004
      Today I received my copy of David Salo's new book, _A Gateway to
      Sindarin_ (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2004).

      While I intend to offer a comprehensive and thorough review at a later
      date, even a cursory examination reveals serious defects in David's
      scholarship and practices that should concern prospective buyers,
      students, and anyone interested in the basic standards of scholarship,
      linguistic and otherwise, and so these should be reported immediately.

      I should begin by noting that David opens his book with the statement
      that: "This book is a description of Sindarin". Alas, anyone with a
      knowledge of the actual data for Tolkien's invented languages will
      readily see that David's characterization is not just false, but
      blatantly so. As any scholar of Tolkien's invented languages who has
      followed David's work (or reports thereof) would already have guessed,
      the book in fact relies overwhelmingly not on the data for Sindarin
      proper, but instead on the data for Noldorin, particularly as
      exemplified in the _Etymologies_. We are already quite familiar with
      David's "updating" of the Noldorin data to conform with his notions of
      what is and is not "Sindarin" (whatever that term may mean as the name
      of a continuum of conceptual changes spanning two decades), and indeed
      that methodology is employed throughout this book. What you may not
      have been prepared for, as I was not, is David's deliberate
      _fabrication_ of data, and even worse his deliberate _falsification
      even of the data for Sindarin proper_, _including of Tolkien's own
      Sindarin compositions_, all in order to conform to and provide
      "support" for his theories.

      1) I will pick just one example of David's fabrication of data, before
      detailing his falsification of data. Concerning gerunds, David writes
      (p. 114):

      "Gerunds ending in _-ed_ form plurals ending in _-id_, and gerunds
      ending in _-ad_ form plurals ending in _-aid_, both with internal
      _i_-affection (see § 5.9): _cebid_ 'leaps, leapings'; _neraid_

      What David doesn't tell the reader, or indicate in any manner, is that
      neither *_cebid_ nor *_neraid_ is an attested form, in either Noldorin
      _or_ Sindarin. What he also doesn't tell you is that there is in fact
      _not a single attested example of ANY plural gerund_, again in either
      Noldorin _or_ Sindarin. Nor should this be surprising, since in many
      languages having formal gerunds (e.g. Latin, German) there is no
      distinct plural form of gerunds (see my discussion of this matter at

      2) Moving on to David's falsification even of the data for Sindarin
      proper, consider just this one example: In his compilation of "Extant
      Texts In Sindarin" (Appendix 1 to the book), David gives (p. 231) the
      following passage from Tolkien's Sindarin translation of the Lord's

      _caro den i innas l�n bo Geven sui vi Menel_.

      What Tolkien actually wrote, as indicated by Bill Welden's presentation
      and analysis of this text in _Vinyar Tengwar_ 44 and as can readily be
      seen from the reproduction of Tolkien's holograph text in that same
      presentation (p. 23), is:

      _caro den i innas lin bo Ceven sui vi Menel_.

      That is, Tolkien actually wrote _bo Ceven_, not *_bo Geven_. Now, one
      might think that this discrepancy is simply an innocent typographical
      error in David's book. Alas, David himself explains that this
      alteration of what Tolkien wrote is entirely deliberate, and that it
      was done solely in order to make this data fit David's "theory" of
      lenition in Sindarin. As David writes (p. 232):

      "_bo Geven_: 'on earth'. This phrase actually seems to be written _bo
      Ceven_ in the text, but since the preposition seems to have originally
      ended in a vowel (from OS *_po_ [with macron over and open hook under
      the _o_]) a soft mutation _c_ > _g_ is to be expected here. Tolkien's
      handwritten capital _C_ and capital _G_ are very similar. Like _vi_,
      the preposition _po_ shows soft mutation to _bo_ here."

      Unsupported (and unsupportable) assertions abound here, so let's unpack
      them one by one.

      2a) "This phrase actually seems to be written _bo Ceven_"

      In fact, it doesn't "seem" to "actually" be written _bo Ceven_; it very
      clearly and unambiguously _is_ written _bo Ceven_, as anyone can verify
      for themselves.

      2b) "the preposition seems to have originally ended in a vowel (from OS
      *_po_ [with macron over and open hook under the _o_])".

      First, the reader will search David's book in vain for any evidence
      whatsoever to support his assertion that *_po_ (if indeed underlying
      _bo_) originally ended in a vowel. All one will find (apparently; David
      vexingly provides no index to his book, so it is impossible to
      determine whether he provides any further discussion outside this note
      and the glossary entry) is this entry in his "Sindarin-English
      Glossary" (Appendix 2 to the book; p. 281):

      "Po, len[ited] bo, prep.: on [OS *po [with macron over and open hook
      under the o] < CE *pa [with macron over the a] [root-sign]PA] VT44:23"

      (As a side note: want to know where this [root-sign]PA that David cites
      occurs? Answer: it doesn't. It's solely a creation by David Salo, and
      nowhere is this fact indicated -- many such unmarked inventions
      occur among the extensive list of "Eldarin Roots" published as App. 3.
      Indeed, the form of David's citation here creates the false impression
      that the root _is_ attested at VT44:23.)

      There are several sub-assertions here, none of them supported by any

      2c) "Po, len[ited] bo"; also "the preposition _po_ shows soft mutation
      to _bo_".

      This _might_ be true, but it is by no means the only possible
      explanation, despite the flatness of David's assertion. As Bill
      Welden's writes in his analysis of _bo_ (VT43:26):

      "It seems likely that [_bo_] is derived from the ancient root *_(a)pa_.
      In other documents the Quenya preposition _pa_, _apa_ most often
      means 'on' in the sense in which a picture hangs on a wall [the
      following quoting Tolkien in these documents]:

      [root-sign]_apa_ 'touch' (not with fingers but of the contact of
      surfaces, esp. vertical surface). So prep. _apa_, _p�_ 'touching,
      against'. In Q. this, espec. in form _pa_ [with macron and breve
      over the _a_] is used as prep. == touching, as regards, concerning.
      Also the verb _ape_ is used fig. as to touch one, concern, affect. In
      literal sense the strengthened weak verb _appa_ is mostly used."

      There is thus no attestation whatsoever for David's "po", his "OS *po
      [with macron over and open hook under the o]", his "CE *pa [with macron
      over the a]", or his "[root-sign]PA". In fact, the evidence could easily
      support a development of _bo_ _without_ grammatical lenition as from
      original *_apa_. So David's flat statement misrepresents the case and
      ignores the actual evidence (which he in any event fails to cite) and
      the possibilities presented by that evidence and by prior scholarship.

      Well, so, one might decide, fair enough: David has his theory, and is
      entitled to present it. Unfortunately, what this examination shows is
      that even such seemingly simple and straightforward claims by David can
      and do mask considerable other evidence, possibilities, and analysis
      that he chooses simply to ignore, and even is content to create the
      false impression that forms he invents are in fact attested.

      2d) This takes us back to David's claim that "the preposition [_bo_]
      seems to have originally ended in a vowel".

      Since the "evidence" that David then presents to support this statement
      is purely his own invention, the result is a claim in which despite its
      misleading appearance David cites precisely _no_ attested evidence, and
      thus no objective basis upon which the reader can assess David's
      perception. David's claim is in fact circular: it "seems" thus from
      comparison with unattested forms he creates, and creates on the basis
      of having decided that _bo_ originally ended in a vowel. All of this
      being part of a still larger circle of reasoning:

      2e) "a soft mutation _c_ > _g_ is to be expected here"

      That is, _Ceven_ ought to show lenition to _Geven_ following _bo_,
      because as David circularly claims _bo_ originally ended in a vowel,
      which he argues so that he can then justify altering the data from
      _Ceven_ to _Geven_.

      In other words, rather than accepting that Tolkien wrote _Ceven_
      deliberately, and that that may tell us something about the actual
      prehistoric form from which _bo_ arose, and/or about the presence or
      absence of lenition following this or other prepositions, David decides
      that Tolkien must have made a mistake, because _Ceven_ does not conform
      to his "theory" that words must lenite after _bo_.

      See further David's unsupported assertion and citation of silently falsified
      _bo Geven_ in the section on prepositions (p. 146), again to fabricate
      support for David's unevidenced assertion that _po_ takes lenition:
      "_po_ 'on' [OS *po [with macron over and open hook under the o]] +
      soft mutation. Usually lenited as _bo_: _bo Geven_ 'on earth'."

      2f) "Tolkien's handwritten capital _C_ and capital _G_ are very

      David offers _no_ evidence for this claim, which as a long-time reader
      of Tolkien's manuscripts comes as a real surprise to me. Even if it
      were true in some cases -- David cites not even a single instance --,
      it is certainly _not_ true in this case, as anyone can see by looking
      at the reproduction of Tolkien's holograph manuscript of this text at

      2g) "Like _vi_, the preposition _po_ shows soft mutation to _bo_ here."

      It is quite ironic that David should choose _vi_ as a case of parallel
      evidence in support of his assertions concerning _bo_. First, it should
      be noted that the initial softened consonant in _vi_ has an exactly
      parallel alternate explanation _not_ requiring grammatical lenition,
      that is suggested by exactly parallel evidence, _again_ cited by Bill
      Welden in his analysis of _vi_ (VT44:27), in which Tolkien himself
      relates this preposition to roots _imi_, _mi_, which in parallel with
      _bo_ vs. _apa_ could well yield a form _vi_ _without_ resort to
      grammatical lenition. (Bill Welden makes this very point in his
      analysis, the existence of which you would never know from David's
      presentation of the matter. Indeed, you will search utterly in vain for
      the names of _any_ of the editors of Tolkien's linguistic papers whose
      work David reproduces, and re-presents as though it were his own; more
      on which later -- and this despite that fact that he routinely cites
      the editors of others of Tolkien's works, e.g. _Letters_, _HoMe_, _A
      Tolkien Compass_, _Artist and Illustrator_, etc.) This same variance
      MI, IMI occurs also in the _Etymologies_ (VT45:34), so it was not a new
      or passing notion for Tolkien in conjunction with this preposition.

      What's more, David himself cites the non-lenition of Menel after _vi_
      as indicating that the form underlying _vi_ must originally have ended
      in a consonant, and indeed asserts flatly that "_vi_ is the lenited form
      of _min_ 'in'" (p. 232). One is left to boggle at how non-lenition
      following a preposition is in one case taken as obvious proof _for_ a
      lost original final consonant (_vi_ < *_vin_), while on the very same
      page and by David's own cross-reference non-lenition is declared to be
      a _mistake_ by Tolkien -- and thus "corrected" by David! -- _because
      _bo_ must originally have ended in a vowel_!

      3) Finally, I would like to note that despite the fact that Bill
      Welden's presentation, edition, and analysis of this text is the _sole_
      source of this text, and represents the most important prior
      scholarship on the text, not only does David not once acknowledge
      Bill's prior analysis, nor position his own ideas with respect to
      Bill's -- basic duties of any scholar -- but a) you will search in vain
      to find any mention of Bill Welden's name _at all_ in conjunction with
      this text, or (so far as I can see) anywhere else in David's book at
      all; and b) ideas and analyses originating with Bill are echoed by
      David _with no indication at all that they originated with Bill_. And
      here I am not speaking of trivial, obvious interpretations, but of
      difficult forms having numerous possible explanations. For example,
      regarding the still mysterious form _den_ in the line of Tolkien's
      Sindarin Lord's Prayer cited above, Bill writes (VT44:26):

      "den: This word must mark the verb _caro_ as impersonal or passive if
      the construct here is to be parallel with the previous two sentences.
      It may be derived from the Common Eldarin 'personal' 3 pl. pronominal
      stem _te_ 'they/them' (VT43:20 s.v. ta). In Welsh the impersonal
      imperative is formed from an inflection which in Sanskrit forms the
      third person plural (Jones:333), and the natural relationship between
      the two can be seen in the English impersonal expression 'they say'.
      The phrase _caro den i innas lin_ would then have a volitive sense
      parallel to the other imperative/volitive phrases preceding it: 'may
      they do thy will'."

      Of this form David writes (p. 232):

      "_den_: impersonal subject of _caro_, which gives _caro_ a passive
      sense 'be done'."

      And that is _all_ he writes: he does not credit Bill Welden with first
      having arrived at this analysis of this puzzling construction, thus
      presenting it as though it were entirely original to David.

      Nor is this the only such case where the original analyses of other
      scholars is repeated as though original to David; examples abound, for
      example, in the discussion of the past-tense verb, where David claims
      (p. 119):

      "The *_-sse_ suffix [underlying the Noldorin past-tense in _-(a)s_] may
      originate from CE *_-nse_ [with macron over the _e_], with _n_-infixion
      comparable to the CE *_-nte [with macron over the _e_] suffix".

      Sound familiar? That's because I made this same observation long before
      David even believed there _was_ a past tense in _-(a)s_ in Noldorin, in
      my analysis in _Tengwesti�_
      where I write:

      "It should be noted that the suffix _-(a)s_ must have arisen from an
      earlier form with a double consonant, as original final *_-s_ or *_-s_
      coming to stand finally after the loss of an original final vowel would
      regularly be lost in Noldorin. This earlier form might have been
      *_-ssV_, where V stands for some vowel; but given the prevalence within
      the past-tense formation classes of combinations with a homorganic
      nasal, it seems more likely that the earlier form was instead *_-nsV_,
      which would by regular development > *_-ssV_ > _-s_.... If this is the
      correct derivation, it forms a nice parallel with the *_-nt-_ of the
      Weak I formation class."

      (There is a legal term for what David has done in these cases and others
      like them, one which will soon be on the ears of David's publisher and
      academic department.)

      We thus see even from just these very few examples, which do not even
      begin to scratch the surface of this voluminous work (being just the
      first discussions I thought to look at, so I have no reason to think
      their flaws either rare or exhaustive in David's book), David
      deliberately commits each of the following 6 offenses again linguistic
      (and non-linguistic) scholarship:

      1) "Updating" of Noldorin forms to pose as Sindarin data.
      2) Outright and entirely silent invention of data in support of theory,
      not only of forms but of entire formation classes (e.g. the plural
      gerunds, "exemplified" solely by David's silently invented *_cebid_,
      3) Falsification of data in order to fit a theory (deliberately
      altering Tolkien's _bo Ceven_ to _bo Geven_).
      4) Circular reasoning (_bo Geven_).
      5) Applying inconsistent standards of reasoning and evaluation of
      evidence (_vi Menel_ == *_min Menel_, but _bo Ceven_ == *_bo Geven_).
      6) Passing off the non-trivial original work of other scholars in the
      standard literature as his own, entirely without credit or citation
      (explanation of _caro den_ as impersonal/passive construction,
      etymology of _-(a)s_ past-tense ending).

      The upshot of all of this being that it is already amply apparent that
      a) the language described in David's book is not Sindarin as it ever
      was, or as Tolkien ever imagined it to be, but instead a language
      of David Salo's own devising that he gives the name "Sindarin" and
      attributes to Tolkien; and that b) no student or scholar of Tolkien's
      languages can or should trust _anything_ David says in this book,
      unless it can be independently verified by recourse to the original

      =========================================================================================Carl F. Hostetter Aelfwine@... http://www.elvish.org

      ho bios brachys, he de techne makre.
      Ars longa, vita brevis.
      The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
      "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take such
      a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."
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